"Interesting Times" Are an Opportunity, Says Women's Division Top Executive
Changes in the church, the world and United Methodist Women set the stage for "interesting times" and new opportunities for members to put their faith, hope and love in action for women children, youth and others. So said Women's Division Deputy General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson addressing division directors gathered for their semi-annual meeting April 8-12 in New York City, and later, Stamford, Conn. The women began their meeting by visiting two United Methodist Women-owned properties in New York City -- Alma Matthews House and the Church Center for the United Nations -- before going to Stamford, Conn., where the full General Board of Global Ministries convenes, for the balance of their meeting.
Ms. Olson revisited the proverbial ancient curse "may you live in interesting times" as a reality, challenge and opportunity for United Methodist Women. She cited changes within the Women's Division, the communities of United Methodist Women members, the general church and the world at large that reveal the need for United Methodist Women to act with wisdom and flexibility deeply rooted in faith:
- Changes for Women's Division -- Recent reorganization of the relationship between the General Board of Global Ministries and the Women's Division, placed national and international ministries, the Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner and regional missionaries under the administration of the Women's Division, United Methodist Women's policymaking body.
- Changes for United Methodist Women members -- United Methodist Women members are among the astonishing number of women who have lost jobs, homes, college funding and retirement savings in the current economy. "These are times when United Methodist Women members need each other, and when we need the prayers of many," Ms. Olson said. Yet true to their legacy, these United Methodist Women members remain active in their communities, their churches and their world, living into the Purpose with renewed vigor borne of their own personal challenges, she said.
- Changes in the church -- The challenges facing the general church call United Methodist Women members to be engaged in conversations about change and to advocate for women, children and youth. "Interesting times" for the church include declines in church membership and giving, make this dialogue even more essential, she said.
- Changes in the world –- Upheavals in world financial markets and the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China, the BRIC economies, signal accelerated shifts in global power and influence.
"How should we be thinking about our own work and our relationships with women in these countries?" Ms. Olson asked. "Could our leadership development and education contribute to their readiness to take their place at the table?"
Ms. Olson pointed to the stalemate of United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which has yet to be ratified by Iran, Somalia, Sudan and the United States and three other nations, as an example of areas needing revitalized attention.
"Could this be a time when we say that domestic abuse is no longer acceptable and a violation of human rights?" Ms. Olson asked. "Could this be the time we agree to work with the rest of the world to eliminate rape as a tool of war? Could we say that access to family planning is part of every woman's right? Is it that sort of an interesting time? We are also about half way through the time frame during which the U.N. Millennium Development Goals are being implemented. Is this the sort of time when we might act as if all the people in the world are children of God, and to build a society that treats them that way?"
In all times, but especially in these interesting times, Ms. Olson invited members of the United Methodist Women Board of Directors to continue developing dialogue with one another, within the church and in the world with flexibility and wisdom. She pointed to the biblical story of Mary meeting Jesus after the resurrection for insight on this task.
"In this week after Easter, I am still reflecting on the amazing encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene," Ms. Olson said. "She, like us, has a history of being touched by Jesus ... After the crucifixion, she worked, wept and kept on doing the right thing, the caring thing. Can anyone here identify with that? Still, she didn't recognize Jesus when she met him in the garden. As a little girl, I thought, 'How could she not recognize him?' Yet, how often have we failed to recognize Jesus in the face of a person living in poverty? Or in the face of someone who is caring for them? Or in the eyes of a policymaker who is trying to make the world more loving and just?
"Sometimes, like Mary we need to be reminded that Jesus is calling us… by name. God may also ask us to do something uncomfortable -- go and tell! Tell the church that you have seen Jesus in the hurts of the world and in the love of its peoples. Tell your sisters that United Methodist Women is being led by the spirit into God's work with women, children and youth around the world!"
*Leigh Rogers is a public relations executive with the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. Yvette Moore is editor of United Methodist Women News and managing editor of Response.